Two particular intentions have featured quite heavily in my prayers over the last several days. Both have now reached a conclusion. In the case of the first, a story which has been in the news here in the UK a great deal over the past week, the eventual outcome was not what anyone would have wanted. In the case of the second, there was a much better final outcome for the person involved, a very young child who needed emergency surgery. So what was the point of praying in either case?
I think first of all, prayer is a recognition within ourselves that we are not all powerful and we do not have all the answers, nor the ability to change things in the way we might like. In other words, we are finite and greatly limited. Prayer, then, is our acceptance of our need for God, Who is not at all limited and to Whom all things are possible.
Secondly, we are transformed by prayer – partly because of our realisation of the first point, but primarily by the action of divine grace, to which we appeal. Prayer, then, is not so much an action as a reaction, or a response to the invitation and action of Another, the Lord.
Thirdly, part of this transformation through prayer (and through the divine grace of the One to whom we pray) is that our hearts are opened to the needs of others around us. This is a crucial point – prayer, the act of praying, changes us really and truly.
And fourthly, prayer helps us to realise our need to trust in the One to whom we are praying.
Often, we being by praying “for” something – healing, a particular grace, stength in difficulty, or whatever else. And that is good. Or at least, it is good so long as our specificity does not close us to the possibility of something greater. Our specifics in prayer are based upon our will for ourselves or for another, even when our intentions are noble and true. It is about what we have decided we want.
Perhaps a broader way to look at prayer is to open it out somewhat – to pray to the Lord and leave it up to Him what He decides to do or to grant, or to with-hold. This doesn’t mean we cannot pray for a particular intention – but it suggests that we might want to qualify how we express the intention; rather than “Dear Lord, please heal X”, we may put it this way – “Dear Lord, I am praying for X – heal him if it is Your will, or grant him the grace to bear his sufferings well, but I leave it all in Your hands with confidence in Your merciful love”. This, it seems to me, places far less limits on the Lord – although we cannot, in reality, limit Him in any way except when the exercise of our free will refuses His grace. But that is another matter altogether.
The point of prayer, then, is surely about trusting the One to whom we offer our prayers, and about that prayer becoming a conversation between Him and us which is based on trust in Him and love of Him.